Wikipedia:Summary style

World War II article in summary style
World War II

World War II ... was a global war that was underway by 1939 and ended in 1945 ....

Chronology

The start of the war is generally held to be 1 September 1939 ....

Background

World War I radically altered the political map, with the defeat of the Central Powers ....

Pre-war events
Italian invasion of Ethiopia (1935)

The Second Italo–Abyssinian War was a brief colonial war that began in October 1935 and ended in May 1936 ....

Spanish Civil War (1936-39)

Germany and Italy lent support to the Nationalist insurrection led by general Francisco Franco in Spain ....

Wikipedia articles cover topics at several levels of detail: the lead contains a quick summary of the topic's most important points, and each major subtopic is detailed in its own section of the article. The length of a given Wikipedia article tends to grow as people add information to it. This does not go on forever: very long articles would cause problems and should be split.

A fuller treatment of any major subtopic should go in a separate article of its own. Each subtopic or child article is a complete encyclopedic article in its own right and contains its own lead section that is quite similar to the summary in its parent article. It also contains a link back to the parent article and enough information about the broader parent subject to place the subject in context for the reader, even if this produces some duplication between the parent and child articles. The original article should contain a section with a summary of the subtopic's article as well as a link to it. This type of organization is made possible because Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia: unlike traditional paper encyclopedias, it only takes a click for readers to switch between articles, and there is no need to conserve paper by preventing duplication of content.

It is advisable to develop new material in a subtopic article before summarizing it in the parent article. (An exception to this is when the subtopic is non-notable; see below.) For copyright purposes, the first edit summary of a subtopic article formed by cutting text out of a parent article should link back to the original (see WP:Copying within Wikipedia). Templates are available to link to subtopics and to tag synchronization problems between a summary section and the article it summarizes.

Rationale

Article size

Articles over a certain size may not cover their topic in a way that is easy to find or read. Opinions vary as to what counts as an ideal length; judging the appropriate size depends on the topic and whether it easily lends itself to being split up. Size guidelines apply somewhat less to disambiguation pages and to list articles, especially if splitting them would require breaking up a sortable table. This style of organizing articles is somewhat related to news style except that it focuses on topics instead of articles.

This is more helpful to the reader than a very long article that just keeps growing, eventually reaching book length. Summary style keeps the reader from being overwhelmed by too much information up front, by summarizing main points and going into more details on particular points (subtopics) in separate articles. What constitutes "too long" is largely based on the topic, but generally 40 kilobytes of readable prose is the starting point at which articles may be considered too long. Articles that go above this have a burden of proof that extra text is needed to efficiently cover their topics and that the extra reading time is justified.

Sections that are less important for understanding the topic will tend to be lower in the article, while more important sections will tend to be higher (this is news style applied to sections). Often this is difficult to do for articles on history or that are otherwise chronologically based, unless there is some type of analysis section. However, ordering sections in this way is important because many readers will not finish reading the article.

Levels of detail

Since Wikipedia is not divided into a Macropædia, Micropædia, and concise version, as is the Encyclopædia Britannica, we must serve all three user types in the same encyclopedia. Summary style is based on the premise that information about a topic need not all be contained in a single article since different readers have different needs:

  • Many readers need just a quick summary of the topic's most important points (lead section).
  • Others need a moderate amount of information on the topic's more important points (a set of multiparagraph sections).
  • Some readers need a lot of details on one or more aspects of the topic (links to full-sized separate subarticles).

The parent article should have general summary information, and child articles should expand in more detail on subtopics summarized in the parent article. The child article in turn can also serve as a parent article for its own sections and subsections on the topic, and so on, until a topic is very thoroughly covered. The idea is to summarize and distribute information across related articles in a way that can serve readers who want varying amounts of details. Breakout methods should anticipate the various levels of detail that typical readers will look for.

This can be thought of as layering inverted pyramids where the reader is first shown the lead section for a topic, and within its article any section may have a hatnote or similar link to a full article about the subtopic summarized in that section. For example, Yosemite National Park#History and History of the Yosemite area are two such related featured articles. Thus, by navigational choices, several different types of readers each get the amount of details they want.